Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire goes back to school with 'Grease'
The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire returns to Rydell High School with a revival of the 1972 Broadway musical "Grease." But this time around, director Scott Weinstein is taking a different approach to the material, and he's made a deliberate effort to find fresh faces for the cast.
Weinstein grew up loving the 1978 movie version of "Grease" starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John -- so much so that he nearly wore out his family's VHS copy. When Weinstein reached high school, however, his tastes changed.
"The movie never really felt like what high school was actually like," Weinstein said. "It's this kind of sugarcoated, nostalgic version of it."
Weinstein discovered something far grittier in researching the 1971 Chicago stage origins of "Grease." Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's script and score is full of fun 1950s nostalgia, but the earlier versions were far less kid-friendly as they explored teenage issues of consent, sexuality and substance abuse.
"I'm really about coming-of-age stories and how our adulthood is kind of reconciling our childhood, and that's all throughout 'Grease,'" Weinstein said. "We have these moments growing up that seem magical and like they're the most important moments of our lives, and then of course as we become adults, those moments fade away and we realize what's really important."
Weinstein also wanted to challenge the notion that the former Catholic school transfer student Sandy (Leryn Turlington) debases herself by trying to befriend Betty Rizzo (Jacquelyne Jones) and Danny Zuko (Jimmy Nicholas), who are the respective leaders of the high school gangs called the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys.
"We see this summer as one of independence -- a time when Sandy got a little taste of what freedom would look like when she's changing schools, moving to a new environment and learning a lot," Turlington said. "High school is a time when most people are discovering themselves, and my Sandy comes from a sheltered environment where she doesn't really know what she's missed out on."
Weinstein also sees Sandy's character arc to be symbolic of America shifting from the conservative '50s into the more liberal '60s.
"There's this misconception in the show that (Sandy) changes for Danny, and something that's really important for Leryn and I is that she changes for herself," Weinstein said. "She realizes that the version she's putting out into the world is not representative of who she feels like on the inside."
Weinstein sought out fresh faces to play the teenagers of "Grease," and many cast members are making their main stage Marriott debuts with the show. One is Johnsburg High School graduate and Broadway veteran Jimmy Nicholas ("The Book of Mormon"), who has the plum role of Danny.
"This is a full-circle moment," Nicholas said. "It's interesting coming back, too, because my high school theater was built in the round. So we would always come to the Marriott to steal ideas for our own productions."
Nicholas likes how Weinstein emphasizes the Windy City roots of "Grease," even having designers seek inspiration from Chicago's Norwood Park neighborhood. He's also glad that Weinstein pushes the cast to behave like real teenagers.
"Rarely are we given this kind of raw behavior. Kids can be the worst and terrible to each other and disgusting," Nicholas said. "They can be your best friend one minute and be so cruel the next. This musical really captures that."
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Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
When: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (no matinee Jan. 15; evening shows end Feb. 19); 7:30 p.m. Thursday (also 1 p.m. Feb. 27, March 5 and 12); 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday; from Jan. 15 to March 15
Tickets: $55-$60; dinner packages available for select performances